Union Skeptical, Urges Government To Keep Promise
For about three decades, the Lagos State government tinkered with the idea of relocating sawmillers from the Okobaba Sawmill, at Ebutte Metta, Lagos Mainland Local Council.
It was only in 2007 that it concretised plans for the relocation, with the development of a modern sawmill, called Timberville in Agbowa, in the Ikorodu area of the state.
The administration of Babatunde Fashola, which was in office then, promised to deliver Timberville in seven months, and relocate the sawmillers. But like some other promises that it made, Timberville’s dream didn’t materialise till Fashola left office in 2015.
His successor, Akinwunmi Ambode, who inherited the project, also failed to complete it until he left office in 2019. When Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu came on board the same year, he promised to complete all ongoing projects and those abandoned by past governments.
It was at that point that some operators at the Okobaba Sawmill felt that their days at Ebute Metta were numbered if Sanwo-Olu kept his words.
With less than a year to end Sanwo-Olu’s first term in office, the sawmillers are still at Okobaba. That notwithstanding, there are growing indications that the governor plans to relocate them before the end of his first term in May 2023.
A fortnight ago, the governor, during a visit to the Timberville promised that the sawmillers would be relocated to Agbowa, by December, as the facility was already 95 per cent completed, and should be delivered before the end of the year. He further explained that what was left was to mop up the area and establish a police post for security purposes.
During his tour of the facility, Sanwo-Olu said: “This project has been on for years, but we are happy that our government has brought it back. We have invested a lot of resources to be able to bring it to a usable level. Part of the facilities that we have put in place for the sawmillers is 160 units of two-bedroom apartments that have been completed. We also have offices in their various shades that have been built. The other amenity built on this site is a brickette plant facility, which will be managed by Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA).
“The ship piles where ships will be berthing have been done. What is left is to clear the trailer path for the sawmillers, and put up a police post and a fire service station. In this regard, we are making additional funding available to the contractor to ensure that before the end of this year, we all should sing Hallelujah and bring everybody down here. It’s been a very long journey, but our administration is committed to bringing the long wait to an end.”
The governor in explaining the delay in the construction of a 3km access road from the main expressway, to the site, stressed that the ongoing construction of a bridge crossing on-site slowed down work on the road project.
Sanwo-Olu, however, said that alternative roads had been completed to pave the way for a smooth relocation of the saw millers. He added the access road would be tarred immediately after the crossing bridge is completed.
Once the amenities are in place, Sanwo-Olu said that the government would start relocating the sawmillers. He reiterated that his administration possesses the political will to complete the project and move the inhabitants to the site.
The governor said: “They are waiting on us to clean up and ensure that the Timberville is fully habitable for them. In terms of agreement with the sawmillers, they have shown their readiness to relocate. We have the full political will to ensure that this relocation is done, but we don’t want to throw our citizens into a place that is not fully ready.”
The President, Lagos Mainland Sawmillers Association, Okobaba, Alhaji Abdul-Ganiu Onikeku, recalled that the Timberville would h
ave been completed long before now, but for the disagreement regarding the design of the project, which slowed down its progress.
He said: “In 2007, former Governor Babatunde Fashola, promised to finish the project in seven months so that we would be relocated. He tried all he could, but the project was not completed. And a few months to the end of his second term, he wanted to commission the project with only 60 to 70 per cent of the work done. At the end of the day, the commissioning did not hold because what was on the ground could not be taken as a completed project.
“Governor Ambode came and did his best, but it was not completed. The current governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, came and has been trying all to complete the project, but it is still not yet completed,” he said
Onikeku requested the governor to visit the project site to appraise what was left of the construction works, which the governor did.
“The governor after looking at every section of the project now knows that between now and the next six months, the project would be completed. That is the promise of the governor,” he said.
Onikeku, however, lamented that two weeks after the governor visited the site, nothing has happened on the site to confirm that the relocation would still take place in December as promised by the governor. “So, I will not hesitate to plead with whoever has direct access to Mr. Governor to appeal to him to keep his promise to the people.”
On steps that the government should take to aid smooth relocation to the new site, Onikeku said: “We are not looking for any compensation because when the project started, we made our demands, which the government promised to look into, and is doing. In other words, we asked that everything that the government demolished at Okobaba will be replicated in the new site, and the government has done that even though some are yet to be completed.”
Stressing that the sawmillers were prepared to leave Okobaba and relocate to Timberville, Onikeku added: “Even if we do not want to go, the government is already sand filling the lagoon front around Okobaba, which means that we are going to be off business. So, we are appealing to the governor that before the sand filling blocks the sawmill and stops us from working, the Timberville should be ready for us to relocate to.”
“But I can’t see any possibility of moving there in December since the project hasn’t been completed now. Much as I do not doubt my governor, I also want him to take his words and promise very seriously.”
He dispelled rumours that his members were not disposed to moving to the new site on grounds that their business might be negatively affected.
According to him, the cutting-edge advantage that they have is that woods supplied by his members are of high quality, and that is the reason customers from as far as Sokoto in the North, as well as Cotonou and Ghana outside the country, patronise them.
“When people in these places that I have mentioned and even far beyond need quality wood, they come to us. I am quite sure that when we have good roads that lead to Timberville, our sales would not be impeded.” He added that moving logs to the new site would also not be an issue because the new location has a lagoon front too. “The hitches encountered while moving logs on water from around Agbowa, to Okobaba will no longer be there because there is a stormy spot around Ikorodu that often destroy our woods. That would be eliminated once we move to Agbowa.”
He appealed to Sanwo-Olu to provide the association with the Certificate of Occupancy (CofO) of the land as promised.
“In the MoU, we requested that we should be given the CofO for the land. This is because we do not want politicians to come there like they came to Okobaba and disturb us. It is politicians that destroyed this place (Okobaba) for us… This place was a sawmill industry, but politicians infiltrated us. And we hope that there would not be room for such things in Agbowa. So, we want the governor to give us the CofO as we demanded, and which the government also promised to comply with.”
He also implored the government to allow them the autonomy to manage the new site, though supervised by the Ministry of Agriculture. “And we will continue to pay our dues to the government and its agencies like the Fire Service, National Inland Waterway, and the Ministry of Agriculture. We pay our dues promptly, and do not want them to come asking before we pay.”
He appealed that the allocation of workshops and office spaces should be done by the union and not government officials “because we know the real sawmillers. The government can nominate two officials to supervise us as we do the workshops and office space allocation.”